Members of the township’s Jewish community are fuming over the Moorestown Business Association’s (MBA) decision to hold its annual “Autumn in Moorestown” festival on the holiest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur.
In its 17-year history, Autumn in Moorestown has always been held on the second Saturday in October, according to MBA president Mark Morgan.
Yom Kippur, which falls on the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, floats from year to year. Next year, it will fall on Sept. 26, on Sept. 14 in 2013 and on Oct. 4 in 2014. This year, it’s Saturday, Oct. 8, the same day as the festival. During Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” it is customary for Jews to spend their whole day in the synagogue, during which many of them fast.
Morgan and the festival committee chairs first learned of the conflict several months ago, but came to the conclusion there was no way to switch the date of the festival without losing some of the vendors they count on to attend.
“(The vendors) do a circuit,” Morgan said. “There isn’t an open weekend to move to that these people aren’t already doing their thing (somewhere else) … Even with way advance knowledge, I don’t know there’s anything we can do.”
In a statement on the MBA website addressing the controversy, Morgan mentions the Wheaton Festival in Millville, on the first weekend in October, and the Haddonfield Festival, on the third weekend, as well as dozens of other events taking place throughout the state, as competition for those vendors.
If they were to reschedule Autumn in Moorestown, they run the risk of not only losing those vendors this year, but in future years as well, Morgan said. “The vendors would find somewhere to go, and they might never come back.”
For his part, Morgan was apologetic and regretted that the situation had spiraled into controversy, calling it a “no-win situation.”
The MBA’s apology and explanation has provided little comfort to many members of the town’s Jewish population, who believe the association’s decision to go ahead with the festival, without trying to reschedule, is insensitive to their faith.
Mara Jacobs didn’t want the MBA to cancel the event, but wished they would have moved it to another day, she said. “You want to have a community event, you can’t exclude part of the community … How do I explain to my 10-year-old daughter why she was not included when all her friends come back and talk about the fun they had and the scarecrows they made?”
In an attempt to counter Morgan’s rationale for keeping the festival on the 8th despite the conflict, Jacobs suggested this wouldn’t have happened if it were a Christian holy day, like Good Friday or Easter. But Morgan said the comparison was not apt because there are no floating Christian holidays that would ever conflict with an MBA event.
“There’s no other apple to compare to this apple,” he said.
In an effort to conciliate the critics and minimize damage, Morgan reached out to members of the Jewish community for guidance, including David Snyder, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which represents South Jersey’s Jewish population.
Snyder said he is “sensitive to Mark’s predicament.”
“My sense is they (the MBA) were very sorry,” Snyder said. “The JCRC appreciates the thoughtful process the MBA went through.”
Morgan said a number of Jewish vendors who normally attend the festival had to bow out due to the conflict, but expressed no ill will toward the MBA.
Several other Jewish Moorestonians have not been as sympathetic, bombarding Morgan with emails and letters ranging from critical but relatively polite to downright nasty. A Jewish member of the MBA board even stepped down over the conflict.
If any good has come of this, it’s that the MBA is now more sensitive to the Jewish community’s viewpoint, Snyder said, adding, “(The JCRC) looks forward to working with (the MBA) in the future to prevent something like this from happening again.”
In the MBA’s statement, it acknowledges the scheduling conflict will occur again in 2024 and says it will “work with leaders of the Moorestown Jewish community in advance of that year’s event to see if there is an alternate solution.”
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